Hot Club of Cowtown is a band that seems to imagine American pop music as if time was stopped in the mid-1950s. It’s a country band without a shred of modernity or relevance, and it’s exactly this (along with some serious talent) that makes them a refreshing antidote to commercial country. Wishful Thinking combines Great American Songbook-style wit with traditional American instrumentation, and the result is a delightfully honest record.
True to their influences, who all worked with the limitations of analog recording technology, Wishful Thinking’s songs are brief—the longest cut is only slightly longer than four minutes. This brevity works in the band’s favor. Elana James, violinist and singer, has an alto that’s smoother than aged Kentucky bourbon, and her soft croon drips with potential and sexuality. On “Reunion,” a tastefully arranged ballad, she navigates through an emotional jungle with arresting ease. While Whit Smith, the band’s male vocalist, is no slouch, it’s James’ frankness and electricity that makes her moments at the microphone into the album’s best tracks.
Hot Club of Cowtown are an exceptionally talented ensemble, and Wishful Thinking is a joyful road trip through the first part of the 20th century in American musical history. The band may work in an old format, but there’s plenty of inspired improvisation and clever moments that make this album feel original and lively. It’s a great summer listen, and an ideal introduction to traditional American music.